While “first person” style horror certainly isn’t going anywhere thanks to a minimal budget/maximum profit scenario, I’m momentarily giddy because directors are once again looking for inspiration elsewhere. Recently I reviewed a Chatroulette inspired horror film called The Den, whose ingenuity I ended up praising. Following hot on the technical heels of Zachary Donohue is Nacho Vigalondo’s own internet hacking nightmare, Open Windows.
Vigalondo’s title refers to the numerous open program windows on his main character’s computer, representing the portal for our viewing experience. Mixing elements of suspense, home invasions, voyeurism, and celebrity idolization, Vigalondo makes us fear a culture of hackers who can re-write history with a simple keystroke – through a convoluted story more tangled than the interwebz.
Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) manages one of the most popular fan sites for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), a sultry celeb adored by the masses. Winning a personal dinner with Goddard after a press conference for her latest film, Nick waits patiently in his hotel room for his big date – only to find out via a random messenger that Jill has canceled all festivities. Left without any plans, the voice coming through his computer convinces Nick to spy on Jill and reclaim some of the night’s entertainment value, but these sneaky tactics only get Nick in more and more trouble. Blindly following the instructions of an unknown lunatic at the other end of a chat screen, Nick becomes inadvertently involved in a madman’s plot to shake the world’s foundation through an abduction and possible murder. Can Nick save the helpless Jill Goddard while clearing his own name?
Credit Elijah Wood with another stellar genre watch, only continuing his eclectic casting decisions in the vein of that Beastie Boys video, Maniac, and Grand Piano – just to name a few. This is Wood’s movie to own, as Nick’s laptop camera continually records the horrors he must face, and Elijah once again provides a gripping look into a tortured, conflicted victim. Don’t get me wrong, Maniac is hands down my favorite Elijah Wood role, but there’s something about how our favorite hobbit plays a victim that almost always leaves a captivating memory. Whether it be his powerless responses, wide-eyed gazes, or inevitable submission to his captor’s wishes, Wood understands how to create a broken man, one we’re sympathetically connected to – but when given the chance, he can turn the tides with intensity as well.
Sasha Grey – yes, for those of you jumping on IMDB right now, THAT Sasha Grey from such memorable titles as Spunk’d 8 and Grand Theft Anal 11 – has delighted cinematically before in movies like The Girlfriend Experience and Would You Rather, but Open Windows strips her usual ferocious personality in favor of something more tragic. Not to call on her past body of work (most audiences know Sasha for her sexual exploration), but Vigalondo offers her the chance to use her knee-buckling sexuality to play a wounded young starlet suffering from America’s limelight obsession. Sasha definitely asserts her own genre credibility, but it’s Vigalondo who creates a character with proper commentary on today’s celebrity obsessed culture.
While Open Windows features strong leads from both Wood and Grey, it’s Vigalondo’s story execution that leaves viewers curiously intrigued and hopelessly lost. While his computer screen presentation offers a unique take on “found footage” displays, we’re removed from the illusion as the camera pans around each window on the screen. Vigalondo attacks Open Windows with blind ambition, introducing a team of hackers, a leather clad maniac, distorted programs, and a super internet capable of fixing any problem with a simple hackbot – conveniently forcing a messy, longwinded story that refuses to end. I’ve loved Nacho’s other mindbenders, Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial, but Open Windows relies too heavily on trusting, faithful belief. Shifts in pacing are always countered by some surprise revelation, but as these intricacies build on top of one another, the legs holding up so many coincidental occurrences become feeble, wobbly, and ultimately give out.
Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows strives to capitalize on modern technologies for a truly horrifying glimpse into a hacker’s capabilities, but whereas The Den‘s computer takeover remained completely believable, Nacho gets lost in this lavish, Bond-villain type machinery existing only in a fantasy world. While this would typically work, because movies are supposed to transport viewers, Open Windows spams audiences with an overload of development without much explanation, much like those information-less ads claiming to solve your impotency problem with a magic formula. Vigalondo unfortunately doesn’t have that perfectly crafted code, and Open Windows ends up being a second rate techy nightmare featuring strong performances recorded for our viewing pleasure – or pain. However you want to categorize it.